Having made a career out of putting the planet in peril, with Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, Roland Emmerich has decided to cast back to the good old days, 10,000BC to be precise, when there was only the occasional Ice Age to worry about, perhaps a dinosaur or two, or a sabre-toothed tiger. Nothing a man with a trusty spear couldn't handle.
The date shouldn't be taken too seriously: it's a prehistoric round number, catchy and vague. Emm-erich is counting on most of us not being pal-aeontologists: this isn't about the revelation of a bygone age; it's about CGI.
As a mountain tribe celebrates its latest mammoth hunt, it is attacked by horsemen, who abduct the village's young men. The strangers take only one woman, Evolet (Camilla Belle, below), whose beau, the day's mammoth slayer D'Leh (Steven Strait), sets out to rescue her. Among the obstacles ahead are nasty prehistoric ostriches, a sabre-tooth and quasi-Egyptians (it's 5,000 years too early for the real thing), who are using slaves to build a giant pyramid.
The film works best as a series of spectacles: from the opening hunt – the stampeding mammoths are so well realised that you don't stop to think they aren't real – to the climactic battle of the pyramid-city. Beyond the special effects, however, there is little to make the pulse race.
It is usually the female characters of such films who are scantily clad (think Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC); here, it's the plot, which passes before our eyes without drama, a memorable character or emotional resonance. Emmerich tries to keep his story warm with myths and superstition. The Flintstones is more convincing.
What was most striking about writer/ director Paul Andrew Williams' feature debut, the crime drama London to Brighton, was its originality: it was as though the "mockney" bastardisation of the genre never happened. At the outset of his second film, The Cottage, it seems he is about to refresh another genre, comic horror. Then, disappointingly, he succumbs to rote, and an all-too-familiar slaughterhouse.
It opens promisingly, with bickering brothers David and Peter (Andy Serkis and Reece Shearsmith) arriving at a cottage in the woods, with kidnapped gangster's daughter Tracey (Jennifer Ellison) in the boot of their car. All they need do is call in the ransom.
The chemistry between Serkis and The League of Gentlemen's Shearsmith – between weasel-faced hardman and snivelling incompetent – is nicely wired. And there is humour in the question of who will undo them: the Asian assassins sent by their victim's dad, the unseen menace in the woods, or the foul-mouthed Tracey herself.
Sadly, with the components in place, all Williams can lead us to is yet another loony rural family, and a second half of decapitations, eviscerations and screams. Comparisons with Shaun of the Dead are inevitable. But while that film maintains its wit to the last gobbled corpse, this is on bloody auto-pilot well before.